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Yellow ribbons and reactive dogs


I've just heard of a practice which I'm told has been around for a long time of tying a colored ribbon to a dog's leash to let people know the dog is "reactive". For those of you who haven't heard that term, it should be over-reactive and it's used to describe dogs who lunge or shy away from things that other dogs take in stride. I've worked with over-reactive dogs and they are challenged to make their way in the world. Trainers spend a great deal of time trying to figure out how or why a dog gets this way.The answer is some dogs lack experience with the new and some dogs have had bad experiences. It doesn't matter because all dogs learn the same way. They either need to learn that new things are not always scary or that there better behaviors to offer when we are scared than lunging or shying. The stories become tales we tell to excuse a dog's behavior and even give ourselves a pass for not completing training necessary to take dogs out and about.

Our dog culture and I'm afraid our American culture at large is starting to value disability. It's necessary to recognize a disability or even accommodate differences but there is a danger in actually venerating a disability. It's an excuse to do less or worse, a badge of honor that isn't earned. This should not be so. Why should one dog be valued more because he's afraid of strangers grabbing at his head than another dog who thinks this normal human behavior means ear massage and possibly food? He should not. The dog with better skills, whether they be natural or learned is a better companion for people. Period. End of story.

I am not condoning the dumping or discounting of the other wonderful skills an over reactive dog may have. His value as an individual is not diminished because he lunges and shies, because maybe he's not the best companion for large groups of people. But putting a ribbon on his leash so that everyone else can adjust their actions to accommodate his special needs is not helping anyone, especially that dog.

And claiming he is special and deserving of an extra wide berth or special consideration for his feelings because he is not as well trained, well bred or as confident as any other dog actually diminishes the other dog and his trainer. So in valuing the frailties we are actually disrespecting strength. So if your dog is strong and he was born that way, enjoy your luck. Celebrate your dog. Write a thank you note to the shelter or breeder who brought him to you and take him with you whenever you can. If your dog needs training, get to work. Don't buy ribbons so that everyone else can work around your special situation.